“If you can’t write, you’re dead.”
This was the overarching theme of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams’ message to students as he visited Temple University.
I got the chance to talk to Williams prior to his day at the Lew Klein awards, to learn about his take on broadcast journalism.
“For those looking for a future in any aspect of our business, if you can’t write and if you can’t write fast, like breathing, reflexively, I’m afraid there are a shot of other careers you should look into, pretty quick,” he said.
This is a lesson Williams had to learn early on in his pursuit of a career in journalism, a job he did not always consider. In fact, as a college dropout, Williams did not always focus on the news, until he remembered a television tradition from his childhood; watching the CBS evening news with Walter Cronkite every night.
“Until he said that’s the way it is, dinner was not served in my house; so there was a built in incentive to really pay attention and stay parked in front of that television.”
Based on that practice, Williams became a journalist, who, similar to many of his colleagues, put in his time working in the likes of Pittsburg, Kansas and even here at NBC10 Philadelphia before finding a home at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. In December, he will celebrate a decade there as anchor of NBC Nightly News. A dream job for him, by definition, telling America’s stories.
“Sadly, too many of the stories we travel for and go off and cover are horrible disasters, and it is why we try to end our broadcast more often that not on works of goodness that are happening every day across our country,” he said.
But Williams says, even that doesn’t give his audience the whole story, so he will appear on late night comedy shows and sitcoms, and even let his voice be edited into raps, to show his own lighter side.
“I think the times call for our viewers, our customers, to see the whole you. In the context of a very serious half hour newscast in the post 911 era on Nightly News, it is a lot of death and destruction.”
Night after night, Williams will continue to practice his craft of storytelling, fine tuning his writing long after the work day has ended.
“And then driving home tonight, I’ll think of nine ways I could have written it better, tighter, punchier, facts I missed. It’s like a sickness in this business…. And it’s never really over.”